Kia 's latest cee'd gets a clever 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol engine and must now bear the weight of heightened expectation. Jonathan Crouch assesses whether it's up to it
Ten Second Review
Kia has demonstrated a genuine maturity and focus on what customers want and need with this improved second generation cee'd. It's at its best with a 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine under the bonnet, but price creep means it's not the conspicuous bargain it once was.
Expectation places tough demands. Both objectively and subjectively, the second generation Kia cee'd is a massively superior thing to its hugely successful predecessor. Given this superiority, how can it possibly fail? I'll tell you how. It can fail by becoming part of what it originally beat up on so refreshingly, namely the mid-priced mainstream. When the cee'd first appeared in 2007, it was a breath of fresh air. Clean styling, decent quality and low, low prices made it the Reasonably Priced Car that was anything but a joke. In fact it had most of the big European manufacturers quaking in their boots. Now we have the second act and it faces an uphill task. One thing's for sure though. To see it at its best you need to choose one with a CRDi diesel engine. Perhaps the 89bhp 1.4-litre variant? Let's see.
The entry level 1.0-litre petrol unit is no great hardship to drive, generating 98bhp in its base form, or 118bhp in uprated guise. The base version makes 62mph in 12.3s en route to 114mph, while the pokier variant improves those figures to 10.7s and 118mph. On the move, the driving dynamics won't satisfy those for who see handling response as everything, despite the inclusion of a torque vectoring system, which reduces understeer by partially applying the brake to the inner wheel under cornering. You get a supple multi-link rear suspension system too, something that's still not the norm in this segment. And there's neat FlexSteer steering that allows you to alter feedback at the helm. Rowed along with the slick gearlever, the cee'd feels agreeably sprightly and the engine note isn't unpleasant either. The steering isn't the most natural feeling and there is quite a bit of wind and tyre noise, but it has a great front end with plenty of grip. It rolls a bit as you enter a corner, but you expect that in an all-rounder like this. Ride quality isn't quite up to the class best but it's not that far off. The manual gearchange is light but positive and the brakes are excellent. It's just a shame that Kia's DCT twin-clutch transmission isn't offered in conjunction with a 1.0T-GDI powerplant as yet.
Design and Build
Whether you choose to order this car in five-door hatchback, Sportswagon estate or pro_cee'd coupe guise, you should feel that in improved second generation form, it certainly looks more purposeful. At the front, it retains Kia's hallmark 'tiger-nose' grille, along with wraparound headlamps and integrated fog lamps. Changes include a more angular and wider bumper, with chrome trim around the fog lamps, and a smarter oval-shaped grille mesh echoing many of the shapes and design forms on the front of the car. A similar change has been made to the rear of the cee'd, with reshaped bumpers, sporty-looking reflectors and LED lamps all featuring. Inside, the fascia layout remains neat, though there are still rather a lot of buttons. The asymmetric, driver-focused dashboard looks classier now though, receiving flashes of chrome around the instrument binnacle, the air vents and around the upper edge of the instrument panel. The central fascia panel is now finished in a high quality, anti-scratch gloss black for a more premium look. Other chrome highlights have also been added to the cabin, in particular around the base of the gear-stick, on door handles, and to the temperature control dials on the dashboard, depending on trim level. There's also an optional colour pack to make the cabin feel more individual. Out back, as before, there's a 380-litre boot that's 20% bigger than that of a Ford Focus and 10% bigger than that of a Volkswagen Golf. That advantage is maintained when you push forward the split-folding rear bench to free up a useful 1,318-litres of total fresh air.
Market and Model
Is the cee'd becoming subsumed into the mainstream? I think it just might be. The cee'd, especially in this 1.0-litre turbo petrol form, is no longer conspicuously cheap. The 98bhp '2' spec car might open at under £18,000, but most people will prefer this engine in 118bhp spec which will demand just over £20,000 of you. In other words, though driving quality and capability have improved, costs have also risen commensurately. In many ways that's an inevitability of merging with the mainstream but the latest cee'd moves the game on in a number of ways. It starts bringing the sort of technology that was once the preserve of the premium brands to a more affordable price bracket. Yes, the likes of Ford and Vauxhall have been doing this as well, but Kia certainly doesn't shy away from some very high end features. There's a bright TFT high-definition instrument binnacle, dual-zone climate control, powered driver's seat adjustment with memory and a full length (1,045 mm long) powered panoramic glass sunroof. Depending on which trim you opt for, there's LED daytime running lights, fixed cornering lamps, and HID headlamps that turn the low beam to match curves in the road and enhance the driver's night vision. There's also the Parallel Park Assist System (PPAS) where the car uses its sensors to steer itself into a parking space. All you need to do is control the accelerator and brake.
Cost of Ownership
If list prices have crept inexorably upwards, it's good to see Kia introducing some worthwhile efficiency methods to claw some of that outlay back over a typical ownership period. Go for the budget '2'-spec car and the NEDC fuel economy figures are 57.6mpg on the combined cycle and 113g/km. The punchier 118bhp version replicates that combined cycle and manages 115g/km of CO2. Both variants feature Kia's Intelligent Stop and Go system. This works cleanly and unobtrusively, although there is a button on the dash to switch it off if required.
It's hard not to be impressed by the Kia cee'd 1.0 T-GDI. The pokier version gets to 62mph in around 10s, yet manages nearly 60mpg on the combined cycle, while putting out no more than 115g/km of CO2. Some diesel engines would have struggled to match those figures just a few years ago. Plus this cee'd itself is much improved. Cover up the badge on the steering wheel and most people would have no clue they were sitting in a South Korean car. There's an assurance and maturity about its design that speaks of a manufacturer really finding its stride. It's certainly not perfiect thugh. The driving dynamics aren't as sharp as those of a rival Ford Focus and Kia still has a little way to go before it can match the cabin quality of a Volkswagen Golf. Prices have risen too. Nevertheless, with its 7 year warranty and generous equipment levels, the cee'd will continue to find buyers. It's no longer the no-brainer proposition it used to be, but those with a bit of savvy will recognise that with new cee'd comes new attractions. Subtlety hasn't always been a big sales winner though. Despite this, I have faith that Kia knows what it's doing. This cee'd does just about enough to earn a recommendation from us.